When in the last election Democrats spoke of a "culture of corruption"
in Washington, few realized they were making a campaign promise.
The Obama administration is only a few weeks old, but already more
senior officials in it have suffered from ethical taint than in any
The late night comics have noticed.
"There was a huge scientific
breakthrough today," said Jay Leno. "Researchers say they are very
close to finding someone from Obama's Cabinet who's actually paid their
Mr. Leno was referring to former Senate Majority Leader Thomas Daschle,
whose nomination for Secretary of Health and Human Services was
withdrawn after it was disclosed he didn't pay $101,000 worth of taxes
owed for a car and driver, or pay taxes on $83,000 of consulting income
in 2007, and Timothy Geithner, who was confirmed as Treasury Secretary
despite his failure to pay his payroll taxes for four years.
Hours before Mr. Daschle withdrew his nomination Tuesday, Nancy Killefer
withdrew hers as Chief Compliance Officer when it was revealed the
District of Columbia had placed a lien on her Wesley Heights mansion for
failure to pay unemployment compensation tax for a household employee.
Rep. Hilda Solis (D-Ca), the nominee for Secretary of Labor, apparently
violated House rules by failing to disclose she was an officer of a
group lobbying Congress.
Eric Holder was confirmed as attorney general despite having
circumvented Justice Department rules to obtain a pardon for fugitive
financier Marc Rich when he was deputy attorney general during the
waning days of the Clinton administration. In a 2002 report, the House
Government Operations Committee described Mr. Holder's behavior in the
Rich affair as "unconscionable."
On January 6, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson withdrew as the nominee
for Secretary of Commerce when it was disclosed the FBI was
investigating him in connection with a "pay to play" scandal.
Gov. Richardson was, many think, President Obama's second choice. Mr.
Obama was thought to have wanted to name Penny Pritzker, his campaign
finance chairman, to the Commerce post, but feared nominating her might
bring unwelcome scrutiny to her role in the subprime mortgage crisis.
(Ms. Pritzker pioneered the nefarious instruments at her now defunct
Superior bank in suburban Chicago.)
Hoping the third time would be the charm, President Obama on Monday
chose Republican Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire for the Commerce post.
So on Wednesday we learn that Mr. Gregg's former legislative director
was tangentially involved in the Jack Abramoff scandal.
The most recent candidate in the malleable ethics sweepstakes is Ron
Sims, chosen Monday to be the deputy secretary of the Department of
Housing and Urban Development. As King County (Seattle) executive, Mr.
Sims was fined $124,000 for "blatant" violations of Washington state's
state public records act for failure to release documents with regard to
financing of the stadium where the Seattle Seahawks play. Last month
the state supreme court said the fine should be increased.
Congress has turned an indulgent eye to these ethical lapses because
there are many in Congress who are guilty of the same, or worse.
Charles Rangel (D-NY) remains chairman of the House Ways and Means
Committee despite his failure to pay taxes on $75,000 in rental income,
and according to a report issued Wednesday repeatedly failing to
comply with Congressional financial disclosure rules. Sen. Chris Dodd
(D-Countrywide Mortgage) remains as chairman of the Senate Finance
Committee despite having received a sweetheart loan from one of the
worst of the subprime mortgage villains.
The Charlotte Observer endorsed Barack Obama for president, but is
having second thoughts:
"Two weeks into the Obama presidency, we like his campaign better than
his administration," the Observer said Wednesday. "While some of his
appointments are outstanding, others were either badly botched or
reflect a half-hearted commitment to the change principle central to his
ballot box success."